THE RACE is on at the White Hart to instigate crucial refurbishment and redevelopment projects before its planned relaunch in November.
Simon Tanner and Carlos Alfaro, licensees of Sell More, Save More's community site, are working with the category champions against the clock to have the pub looking good in time for an event late next month that should hopefully put the White Hart back on track. It has a number of challenges to overcome.
The planned redevelopment indoors will merge the dining area with the rest of the building.
By fully refurbishing and having part of the wall that separates the dining room knocked through, Simon and Carlos will achieve the 'pubby' feel they want and get rid of the underperforming, over-formal dining room. But they are currently struggling to find a way to do the work they need and stay within their budget, according to Simon.
The White Hart's licensees were also well on their way to revamping their outside area until a snag was hit.
Early on in the project, some derelict buildings to the rear of the pub were demolished to make way for an enlarged car park, a raised terrace area for al fresco drinking and dining, and some letting property.
Late last month, though, the Highways Agency turned down their application on the grounds that cars turning into the car park would not have the required line of sight.
Our business development champion Carl May, of Catered4, explains that a November date is by far the best option for a big relaunch night at the pub, but adds that the place must look absolutely shipshape before this event. "I would definitely want to refurbish before the relaunch," he says. "You can't relaunch an old product. It has to look all new."
Simon describes the delays as "one of those things, where it always takes longer than you had planned". However, he says that all involved are working hard to turn it around.
An option to improve the look of the interior in advance of the relaunch is to divide the work into two stages, get the dining room refurbished before the relaunch, and leave the rest until after.
The long-term concept, detailed drawings of which Simon has had produced, involves repositioning the bar within the main room and adding a bar to what is now the restaurant "to create a two-bar scenario, marrying the dining area to the rest of the pub", as Simon says.
Also crucial in achieving this 'scenario' is scrapping the separate bar and restaurant menus in the White Hart. Brakes development chef Mark Irish has created a dummy menu along these lines. "We wanted to take the best of what we do - our homemade burgers, our steak and Cotleigh ale pie - and complement it with a specials board. We are talking about keeping the local provenance while our objective is to offer the best pub food we can," Simon says.
Prices will be lowered on the new menu so that no main course will be above £10.
They are also looking at closing off the back entrance to the pub - nominally the entrance to letting rooms but in reality rarely used as such - to have just one entrance as a focal point.
As for the relaunch night itself, Carl has helped Simon and Carlos come up with the concept of an early Christmas day. Theming the event around all things festive should not only get the pub recognised but encourage bookings for Christmas dining.
Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) has been talking to the White Hart about how to perfect its soft drinks offering.
It recommends putting an increased focus on adult soft drinks in the pub, as well as those designed for children, as the profitability of ignoring this sales channel cannot be ignored.
Andy Slee, CCE trading director, says: "Of every £10 taken in any type of pub, around £1 or 1.50 will come from soft drink sales and this is true in most licensed venues, whether in the city or in an isolated village. After draught lager, a straight soft drink is the next most frequently asked for item at the bar.
"If a driver is bringing a car full of people from a village 10 miles away, it makes sense to give them branded refreshment they will feel good drinking. This is true at Christmas and all year round."
The Brulines draught beer monitoring equipment, installed last month, is already having an effect - and an unexpected one at that!
"A while ago, a guest complained that the bar had been open after hours and that the noise was keeping them awake," Simon explains.
"The Brulines data showed that there had been no activity at the time they had claimed, and backed up our staff who said the bar had been locked up way before that. The guest was totally satisfied!"
While the plans to turn the White Hart's skittle alley into an all-singing, all-dancing 'entertainment zone' have been put on the back burner while the refurb is sorted out, champion Mediatheme knows exactly what needs to be done when the time comes.
Liz Griffin, Mediatheme marketing manager, says: "The idea of an entertainment zone is brilliant, giving the venue yet another string to its bow. The bar access to that area needs careful consideration to avoid any barrier to use for customers and private parties alike.
"Mediatheme is excited about working with Simon and Carlos on maximising the potential of the White Hart's entertainment schedule.
"From 007 theme nights to charity casino nights, I can see it all working in the Entertainment Zone."